Ch. 24 This Could Be Paradise

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By Beth's very unscientific estimate, probably 98% of people who go on vacation decide they never want to go back to work and the hum-drum of their normal lives. Beth was not a believer in visions or epiphanies, she never claimed to have had otherworldly experiences, but at that moment, she knew with the utmost certainty that not only was she not meant to work at the magazine anymore, but what she was supposed to do in life was to set up shop here in the islands. Of that 98%, of people who did not want to go back to work after vacation, she promised her herself to be part of the approximately 0.01% who do something about it. One day.

"All right, you've convinced me. And in that alternate universe, I'll set up a Koa wood furniture shop with hand-made frames right next to yours. Sound good?" Russell joked.

His words lanced through her chest, cutting and killing as they went. She wanted that other life.

"Absolutely," was all she said, flashing a fake smile. She did not trust her voice to say anything else about it. It was no use thinking about it too much, either.

After a while, she saw Russell staring off to the low waves in the distance and tapping his finger on the towel. She knew what he was thinking.

"Why don't you take the board out and have some fun?" she asked.

"I don't want to leave you here by yourself. Why don't I rent you a surfboard and we can go out together?"

"Ugh. That sounds awful. Lots of physical exercise involving balancing on a slippery surfboard in deep, shark infested water? There are some things you don't know about me yet." Beth made him laugh. "Go, and have fun. How soon will you be back in Hawaii to do this?"

"Not very soon, I imagine. If you are sure you don't mind....I'll be out there for about forty-five minutes. See you soon," he said, giving her a quick kiss. On his way to the water, he glared at a couple of guys looking in Beth's direction until they turned their heads.

"Sand, sun and a view," Beth whispered to herself. "If only they allowed cocktails on the beaches, this could be paradise."

Or almost paradise. Aside from joking about life in an alternate universe, Russell had not mentioned staying together when they reached Denver. But she was willing to take things one tiny step at a time. There was no rush to plaster labels on themselves or get tied up with rules and regulations. It was enough for now to be with him and be desired by him.

Fifteen or twenty minutes passed and the call of the water overpowered Beth. She had to get in it. Russell had told her repeatedly to be careful, but there were a couple of life guards on duty, and she planned on staying in the shallows.

At the edge of the water, she adjusted the snorkeling mask over her face and bit down on the mouth piece just as Russell had shown her. Pushing through the waves lapping the shore, she stretched out flat on the water's surface to enjoy the spectacular parade of aquatic life beneath her. She was not sure how long she swam like that, back and forth, around and around; every time she thought she had seen enough and should go to shore to look for Russell, another amazing fish or sea creature came into view and she had to stay to admire it.

She was a little further off to the side than when she had gone with Russell and the coral formations stretched up from a slightly deeper bottom. She floated on the gentle waves of the bay, content to hover in place until a sea turtle paddled by beneath her. She kicked her fins slightly to follow it as it spun slowly with the underwater eddies. Damn, she had forgotten to buy an underwater camera. What kind of photographer was she, anyway?

She followed the turtle from what she judged to be a safe distance—they had terribly sharp jaws—admiring the magnificent creature who, in spite of his bulky body, heavy shell and thick fins was at total ease in his natural habitat. Unlike Beth who was having a difficult time coordinating her flippers and arms. Should she keep her feet together, mermaid style or alternate her kicks?

The waves rolled her along in larger movements and the bottom of the ocean floor dropped away steadily.

Another wave pushed her along with the turtle and suddenly, past an outcrop of coral, the bottom of the ocean disappeared far below into periwinkle grey. Her stomach plummeted and her head spun for a moment with vertigo. She was floating on the surface of the water, but the sensation that she could fall into those depths clouded her reason.

Stay calm, she told herself as panic squeezed her throat and made her limbs flail to go backwards. She succeeded in churning the water, but not escaping from that menacing, bottomless pit. Stay calm! Her gut twisted and acid rose to her mouth that she had to swallow since she could not spit in the tube. Her legs came down from the surface of the water so she could lift her head to find the shore. It was a little further than she had thought, but not that bad.

The fins on her feet made dogpaddling impossible—her first choice so she could keep her eyes on the land and not the dark depths stretching on and on beneath her. It was impossible to move the fins vertically through the water, though.

Reluctantly, she laid herself out horizontally, recalling the lessons her dad had given her to reach far and cup the water, draw it back, reach again. Irrational fear seized her as soon as she looked downwards, however.

She shut her eyes tight. Just swim. Don't look, don't think, just swim.

Not being a very strong swimmer, she could only maintain the effort for a minute, before she felt her muscles tiring. That should be enough, she reasoned. She had only been a couple of feet away from the coral shelf.

She opened her eyes to check and hissed in the tube. There was nothing below her. Hazy blue darkened to grey nothingness for an eternity. How was it possible? Above the water, she spotted the shore not so far away and she thrashed to swim closer. She couldn't get enough air and she gasped sharply, sucking in a mouthful of saltwater.

Choking and spitting, she tore the mask and tube from her face, and inhaled deeply. The fins felt like bricks as she dragged them through the water. She tried to take them off, but this pulled her under. She rose and fell with a wave, distressed to see the shore moving another couple of feet away from her. There were no other swimmers or surfers nearby. Where was Russell?

You can do this—concentrate! She thought again of her dad; 'Sometimes you have to fight for yourself, princess.' That's it. Fight for it.

She put her head down and started to swim, adrenaline giving her strength. Kicking and reaching, kicking and reaching; that was all that mattered. Without her mask and tube to help keep her head down and her breathing steady, however, it was only a couple of minutes before she was floundering, exhausted and spent.

Everything was so heavy; her arms, her head, and head were all stiff and leaden and her chest burned for oxygen. She rolled over on her back to float, catching her breath. This was better. She could breathe and rest. And at least one of the surfers would notice her boobs bobbing up and down, that's all they ever noticed.

The sunlight blinded her and colored the surface of the water a deceptive bright blue that hid the truth biding its time beneath her. No, she was absolutely out of her depth here. Yes, she was in way over her head. And now she was coming up with bad puns. She chuckled nervously, but it came out a little too edgy to relieve her fear.

A rip tide was pulling her out. From the recesses of her mind, she heard a geography teacher explaining that a person caught in the tide has to swim diagonally to the shore, opposite the force of the water, like the lines of an X. Which way was diagonal? she wondered in dismay. The bay was rounded and shore uneven, so she had no obvious point of reference.

There are lifeguards, she reminded herself. Someone would see her. Or her boobs. And that person would come for her. Please, let someone come before she drifted too far.

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